Just as the correct fit of Cinderella’s shoe is essential to the fairy tale, the correct fit of a pointe shoe is critical to a ballet dancer. These iconic pink shoes are handmade. Layers of cotton-backed satin are stitched to a leather sole, and a fabric insole covers a shank made of tough leatherboard or plastic. The toe box is stiffened with layers of glue, and the platform (the only part in contact with the floor when the dancer is on full pointe) is flattened for better balance.
Most professional dancers order from one shoemaker for years. The maker will customize the shoes, from the shape and tilt of the toe box and vamp (which covers the top of the toes) to the shank’s strength and length. Dancers sew ribbons and elastic on and often customize shoes even more by pounding the toe box to soften it or cutting the satin off the platform for better traction. All this for shoes that may only last one performance! At any given time, SF Ballet’s shoe room holds nearly 5,000 pairs of pointe shoes.